Anthropomorphic Storytelling

Anthropomorphism is the process of giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals and plants. Technology advancements have allowed marketers to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) to develop new and innovative campaigns that can form a warm connection between the advert and viewer.

Viewers seem to be a lot more receptive to an animal with human characteristics promoting a service or product than with human-beings. This is where anthropomorphic storytelling comes in. A prime example of how successful a marketing campaign involving anthropomorphic characters can be is Comparethemarket.com’s Russian meerkat family.

 

 

Compare the Meerkat marketing campaign launched on 5th January 2009 and is still going strong today. The television adverts feature Aleksandr Orlov, a CGI anthropomorphic Russian meerkat, with his family and friends. Comparethemarket.com were soon seeing a fantastic return on investment, with it’s site becoming the fourth most visited insurance website in the UK, up from 16th in 2008. Furthermore, after launching the advertising campaign the company’s sales doubled.

Along with the television adverts, the campaign has grown further through the years. In October 2010 Aleksandr Orlov released his own autobiography, much to the public’s excitement. The book reached second place on the Amazon UK website on its first week of sale. And in July 2011 the company began production of cuddly toys representing each of the meerkat characters. A cuddly toy was given to every customer who bought an insurance policy through their website. Receiving a cuddly Orlov and Family toy was seen as a quirky incentive to use Comparethemarket.com.

meerkat toys

 

There are other companies too who have successfully included anthropomorphic storytelling in their marketing campaigns. Sofa retail chain Sofology, once Sofaworks, now have Neal the sloth who is the face of the company. Sofology also now offers a free cuddly Neal toy with every sofa purchase. From personal experience it really does work. We went into a local Sofology store just to see if we could get a Neal toy on its own. A couple of visits later we left with a sofa and two Neals!

 

A survey carried out by Promotional Products Week found that the UK is a nation of freebie hunters who will change brands for a free gift. The survey found that 3 in 10, of 1000 men and women asked, purposefully changed from their regular brand to receive a freebie. 34% said that they would be persuaded to change brands if there was a free cuddly toy on offer.

Is it because the toy is free that people are attracted to Comparethemarket.com or Sofology? I believe our affection and desire for these characters runs far beyond our need for a quick freebie. The cuddly toys are representations of animals that share the same human characteristics as us. Because they are anthropomorphic characters with personalities and emotions of their own, viewers can form their emotional connection’s with Neal and Aleksandr. They are like familiar, reoccurring friend’s.

Our affection is a result of clever storytelling. It gives the characters personality while moving them away from who they actually are: animals. Neal does not hang from a tree in any adverts, but instead he likes slouching on the sofa as we would at home in front of our own television sets. These human characteristic’s, effectively conveyed through the adverts, makes the viewers feel that they are more than just a CGI character and toy. They are relatable and more personable than a human could ever be.

Every successful marketing campaign starts with a great idea and a great story. If you want to discuss an idea with us or want some friendly creative advice we are just a phone call away. Get in touch with us to book a FREE consultation where you can discuss your business challenges and goals and how video can fit into your marketing plan.

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Why Sound is the Hardest Medium to Conquer

On February  9th, 6.5 million people tuned to watch the hotly anticipated season 2 premiere of Happy Valley, the award winning BBC drama. Despite the gripping narrative, the opening episode of the series was hard to follow. The reason for this? Sound.

Happy Valley

Programme Name: Happy Valley – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. 1) – Picture Shows: Catherine (SARAH LANCASHIRE) – (C) Red Productions – Photographer: Ben Blackall

 

Overnight complaints grew among frustrated fans of the crime drama who took to Twitter to express their views. While the majority hailed the first episode of the latest series, comments like ‘sort the sound levels out please…’ were common. Another viewer wrote: ‘Again a good show spoilt by the sound, too much whispering and mumbling.’ The sound was poor with many lines being mumbled. Overall the dialogue was incredibly  hard to hear unless the television was turned up to at least half volume.

Other Complaints

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn

 

It is not the first time the BBC has received complaints about sound on their programmes. Costume drama Jamaica Inn, aired in 2014, had almost 2,200 complaints about mumbled dialogue from the first episode. Audience figures dropped by 2 million from the first to the third and final episode. Even the Screenwriter for the show said that it was like listening through mud.’ The BBC was forced to apologise saying the sound levels would be adjusted before the remaining two episodes were aired.

The BBC did not learn from their mistakes and a few weeks later in May 2014 saw them receive complaints about sound on their crime drama Quirke. This was a year after Director-General of the BBC, Tony Hall, said that the BBC will look into how to prevent actors from ‘muttering’ in its dramas.

Quirke

 

The writer of Quirke admitted that he and his wife were also forced to watch the show with the aid of subtitles. Andrew Davies explained that he could hear because he knew what the words were. His wife did not however and asked for the subtitles to be turned on.

Why is Sound the Most Complained About Issue Among TV Shows?

Sound is just as, if not more, important as visuals in the media industry. Dialogue is often the most important method of telling the narrative of the programme. Without clear sound, people will quickly lose interest in what they are watching because they are struggling to follow the narrative. Sound enhances the viewer’s experience and enables them to suspend their disbelief and lose themselves in fiction.

Solution

To help prevent sound issues it is vital that just as much planning and consideration goes into sound design as to how the production will look.

For instance, the choice of location has a huge influence on sound. Filming indoors pose the issues of room noise commonly formed from electrical appliances such as air-conditioning units, lights, and radiators. As well as noise, the sound engineer will also have to adapt depending on the size of the room. Large venues often result in sounds bouncing off walls to generate echoes.

Outdoor sound recording is often trickier with background noise, or ambience such as traffic, people, and wind. It is important to have the ambience noise recorded to make the production realistic. On the other hand, you have to be careful that the background noise does not drown out the important dialogue. The volume levels can be edited in post-production but it is better if it can be effectively caught at source.

Therefore, for each location a decision has to be made on which microphone to use.

Ultra-directional microphones are excellent for capturing dialogue in outdoor locations thanks to its selectivity at picking up sounds that are directly in front of it. From this you will be able to attach an ultra-directional shotgun microphone onto a boom pole with a wind shield, or dead cat, shielding the microphone from wind noise.

Audio Technica BP4073

Audio Technica BP4073

In order to prevent unwanted noise being recorded, it is always useful if the microphone can be positioned as close to the actor’s mouth as possible. The actor’s voice will be louder with the dialogue being crisp and clear. The microphone should ideally be positioned overhead, pointing downwards towards the actor’s mouth. Alternatively a lapel microphone, a small mic that can be attached to the actor, can be used as long as it is hidden from view and is not rubbing against the clothing.

Ambient sound should be recorded separately so that the levels can be adjusted in Post Production and so that it does not overpower the dialogue. It can also help shot transitions to introduce the next scene.

 

The audience may forgive an error on camerawork but they will never accept poor sound. The dialogue is not only the most effective way of telling the story, but it also informs and creates emotions that the audience will be able to share with the characters. Careful consideration and planning is crucial for clear, legible audio.

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5 Lessons We Learnt Making a Documentary Film in 48 Hours

In 2014 we were absolutely thrilled to walk away with best film at the 48 Hour Documentary Film Challenge. It was our first effort at Documentary filmmaking. The competition was part of the 5th annual Leicester DocFilm Festival and Documentary Media Month which took place between 1st-30th November 2014.  The process was intense and challenging and we learnt a few lessons along the way. I’d like to share a few of these things with you…

1. Collaboration & Creativity

I believe the biggest lesson I have learnt over time, is the importance of collaboration in filmmaking. Working with a team of people that you trust and respect both personally and professionally allows the process of making films to be quiet organic. Every filmmaker has a creative ego, but it’s how you manage those ego’s that go a long way to helping achieve a smooth and pleasant working environment whilst on set. We had two Creative Director’s working together, each of whom regularly shoots and directs their own work. We quickly established that I would lead they way on the Directing front and my filmmaking partner Joe would mainly work camera and editing. It’s important, especially during an intense 48 hour turn around time, that the team you pick compliments your own skill set. You must have trust in and respect for everyone’s ability.

2. Find a Great Story

When the theme “Heritage” came out at 5.30pm on the Friday night we set to work on identifying a story that we wanted to tell. We quickly established that we were interested in exploring stories that investigated the human condition and after looking up synonyms of the theme we highlighted the word hereditary as a different angle to look at. We were always confident we could make our film look nice in terms of production value as it’s what we both do to earn the bread, but finding the story was always going to be the difficult part. Luckily for us, Joe had remembered seeing a post on his Facebook wall about a young boxer (Michael Williams a.ka. “Duck Boy”). He had recently discovered that he had a Great Uncle who was a Welsh area champion in the 1930’s. As soon as I saw this I immediately got excited but our initial chat with Michael left us feeling deflated after he said he couldn’t film on Saturday morning. But with a little charm and persuasion Michael agreed to change his plans. We found a great story and the rest all just fell into place.

3. Research is Key

We can’t thank boxing historian Miles Templeton enough for giving us his time and for sending us the old documents that really gave our film historical context and helped shape the drama. We spoke to Michael about Miles and got his contact details and gave him a call early on Saturday morning. He gave us so much valuable information that we were able to use in our film and there was so much more we would of loved to do if we were not restrained to 48 hours! We found out where Griff Williams lived in Wales all those years ago and we would have loved to take Michael down to the house and really delve into his family heritage further.

4. Quick Turn-Around Forces You to Make Decisions

There is a real tendency with film editing to go over and over trying to re-edit and refine. With such a quick turnaround time there really isn’t much time to be too precious. We had lots of other ideas for the film. These included using several famous boxing quotes to contextual the piece further and set up each act of the film. But as it turns out we didn’t need these and the documentary film worked really well without it. We only really spent around six or seven hours on Post-Production all in all. This meant we had to be quiet efficient when building the narrative. Massive kudos goes out to Joe for the speed of editing!

5. It’s Infectious!

The process of making a documentary film was incredibly infectious! It has really made both myself and Joe want to produce more documentary films. There is a real sense of cultural importance in producing this kind of film. The stories you tell are personal and delve into people’s real lives. We were really excited to share the historical documents with Michael. To be part of that moment in his life when he read them for the first time was special.

If you haven’t seen our documentary film please do take a look below. If you have any thoughts and comments please do share them with us.

 

 

Why viral videos are the way forward for the NHS

We are currently working on great project for Haemnet – a network for health care professionals who treat people with inherited bleeding disorders. It is a totally free service that provides a secure online space in which members can share information and experience about the care of people with bleeding disorders. Membership is open to specialist nurses, physiotherapists, data managers and social workers. You can visit the site at www.haemnet.com.

The NHS is always looking for new ways to spread public health messages and the project has prompted us to think about how we can take advantage of online video to disseminate healthcare messaging and reach and inform a larger audience. Video is one of the most powerful ways to reach people and if the idea is right you can connect on an intellectual and emotional level. Through a little research we found a useful article on The Guardian online which highlighted a couple of key case study campaigns.

The article opens with the reminder of one of the first acts of the coalition government back in 2010, when they slashed government advertising, although they made an exception for two campaigns on dementia and strokes.

 

“Hot Drinks Harm” – North Bristol NHS Trust

North Bristol hospital hosts the South West Children’s Burns Centre and has used video to spread awareness of the thousands of children every year who are injured by hot drinks. Their ‘Hot Drinks Harm’ campaign depicts a small boy pulling a cup of tea onto himself while his mother’s back is turned, causing him to suffer severe scalding on his cheek. The aim of the film was to raise awareness of the consequences of leaving hot drinks around children and, using social media, to get it disseminated as widely as possible.

Dr Amber Young, consultant paediatric anaesthetist at the centre, says “If you put a bland video up with education facts and figures, people aren’t going to use some of their valuable time to watch that. It’s got to be something that hooks them”. The video, which was created on a budget of £2,500 and used trainees from the City of Bristol college to do the make-up, has gone on to get nearly 14,000 views since it was published in 2011.

 

“Condom, No Condom?”

A year earlier an interactive series of videos launched to encourage young people to wear contraception. Created by primary care trust NHS Bristol and England’s NHS Choices website the video allowed viewers to decide whether a young male party-goer would wear a condom or not, before showing the consequences of his decision, which included pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The video received almost 2million views, in part as a result of extensive media coverage after the Daily Mail ran a story branding the video as ‘pornographic’. However, with such traffic, the cost of the videos worked out less than 2p per visit, compared to around £32 for a face-to-face visit to a GP.

 

“Teenage Pregnancy Video” NHS Leicester City

Another example of NHS video campaigns hitting the headlines was NHS Leicester City primary care trust’s video in May 2009 of a young girl giving birth on a school field. The unbranded video, which was produced to look like amateur mobile phone footage, attracted huge amounts of press coverage and was removed by YouTube after 24 hours after receiving hundreds of complaints.

“It was the most shocking viral video any NHS has produced locally, even regionally, and because we had done our research with the young people and knew what they wanted, we hit are target market just right,” says Richard Morris, associate director of communications and engagement at NHS Leicester City. “This was a ‘social marketing campaign’ so it’s not about what we think is right or appropriate, it’s about the evidence we gained from our research about listening to our target audience, and producing something that gets them interested in key health messages in a discreet way.”

Costing £20,000 to produce, the video targeted girls, young people not in education, employment or training (Neets) and those in the west of the city, a pregnancy hot spot. It had been viewed 2m times by June 2009.

Article taken from the Guardian Online.

Television: The New Drama Kings

February 2014, weeks away from the Oscars, the most prestiges award in the filmmaking world, and yet i’m not that excited. Don’t get me wrong there has been some truly excellent cinema in the year gone by, watching Scorsese’s adrenaline fuelled epic Wolf of Wall Street was certainty a personal highlight. But it in the words of a recent Ron Burgundy anti-piracy advert the cinema is now the “shimmering pretender to televisions crown”. As James Wolcott of Vanity Fair points out, “when it comes to inventive comedy (Modern Family, 30 Rock), complex heroines (Damages, Weeds), and finely textured drama (Mad Men, Downton Abbey), the action has left the cineplex and headed for broadcast and cable”.

This transformation or coming of age did not happen over night and can be tracked back to the late 1990’s when a relatively unknown actor by the name James Gandolfini was cast as Tony Soprano in HBO’s new series The Sopranos. The show opened the doors to a revolution in TV Production as Gandolfini went on to become an iconic anti-hero. The show was ambitious and pushed the boundaries of audience tolerance whilst subverting traditional television storytelling. In her article ‘How Tony Soprano Changed Television‘ Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker says it best,

“He had a lot of space to build the role—six seasons—and he fully inhabited every corner from the beginning, sometimes as a great comedian, sometimes as a self-pitying monster, but always as a radical and new sort of character for television, one who punished the audience for loving him”.

Since the launch 0f The Sopranos in 1999 there has been a proliferation of television shows that have risen to the fore. The Wire (2000-2008), Six Feet Under (2001-2006), Weeds (2005-2012), Dexter (2006-2013), Mad Men (2007-present), True Blood (2008 -Present) Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Treme (2010-present), Boardwalk Empire (2010-present), Game of Thrones (2011-present) and Homeland (2011 -Present) are just a handful of shows that have taken our small screen by storm. One of the main advantages of screenwriting for Television is the time allowed for character development. Writers are able to let the drama breath, to linger and to get better with age. In doing so, television characters are afforded more depth and we are slowly spoon fed their flaws and over time we become connected to them emotionally as we crave their redemption. You would be hard pressed to find this amount of depth in the majority of films a the cinema right now. You only have to look at the dark past of characters such as Mad Man‘s Don Draper or Dexter’s Dexter Morgan or at the ruthless ingenuity of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Watching these complex, often tortured souled individuals grow and develop whilst in constant search of redemption is just fascinating. As Brett Martin observes in his book ‘Difficult Men’

“One cold winter’s evening in January 2002, Tony Soprano went missing and a small portion of the universe ground to a halt. It did not completely out of the blue. Ever since The Sopranos has debuted in 1999, turning Tony – anxiety-prone dad, New Jersey mobster, suburban seeker of meaning-into a millennial pop culture icon, the character’s frustration, volatility, and anger had often been indistinguishable from the qualities of James Gandolfini, the actor who brought them to life. Th role was a punishing one, requiring not only vast amounts of nightly memorisation and long days under hot lights, but also a daily descent into Tony’s psyche-at the best of times a worrisome place to dwell; at the worst, ugly, violent and sociopathic”.

The rise in digital streaming services such as NetFlix and Love Film and the falling price of DVD box sets has also contributed to Televisions cause. Back in 2000, when DVDs where in their infancy, you could pay anything upwards of £60 for a single season of your most beloved show. Fourteen years on and you can now purchase the entire six seasons of HBO’s The Sopranos for just fifty pounds which works out at less than ten pounds per season – a bargain for sure!

I have to admit I was a late comer to Breaking Bad and with NetFlix offering all five seasons plus many more great TV shows and films for just £5.99 per month it seems silly not to take advantage. The way we consume our entertainment is rapidly changing and evolving – we embraced DVD they same way embraced Blu-Ray, in time we will make the shift to 4K Television and with true HD quality imagery at home and the rise of digital streaming will you want to go to the cinema? Time will tell but until then we will have to make do with the mobile phones, the rustling and the loud-mouthed teenagers spoiling our entertainment.

Great Storytelling Is Achievable With Advertising

“Stories, we all spend our life telling them… About this, about that. About people. But some are so good we wish they’d never end. They are so gripping, we would go without sleep to see a little bit more. Some stories bring us laughter, sometimes bring us tears. But isn’t that what a great story does?  Makes you feel? Stories that are so powerful, they really are with us forever…” – Dustin Hoffman, Sky Atlantic.

Advertising can be seen as a dirty word, and when you watch some of the TV ads that make their way onto the screen you can understand why. But it is definitely the best way to reach the widest audience and when done well, you can incorporate great brand storytelling.

More and more businesses are finding ways to tell a narrative tale through their advertising. Even the incredibly annoying Go Compare adverts have become an ongoing saga, with the excruciating Tenor now a tragi-comic character who is trying to find new ways to communicate his message after being blown up, fired into a Black Hole and god-knows what else. It might do your head in every time you see it, but you have to admit that it’s pretty clever.

Another example of narrative storytelling are the BT Broadband flatmates adverts. It helps that the three actors in the ads are all well-cast and talented actors in their own right. The acting and the writing is actually better than the majority of dramas of soaps that you see on the likes of BBC Three, ITV2 and E4. BT’s budget obviously helps in this regard, but it’s simple storytelling that everybody could do. Good scripts, talented actors and a solid film-making team don’t have to cost the world.

The BT Broadband advertising story goes back over three years, with Love Actually’s Kris Marshall starring as a young man dating an older woman who has two kids from a previous marriage. It followed his story from awkward exchanges with the kids all the way up to their marriage, and the story now follows the young son as he ventures off to university. It could quite easily have been a comedy-drama on BBC One, but it’s advertising. Really great marketing.

Here ‘s an examples of the BT Broadband story. See how brilliantly their stories are told, and how simple the storytelling is. You don’t need to smash your customers over the head with flashy visuals and manic editing, you can draw them in with simple, concise storytelling:

BT Broadband Story

It might not be within every businesses budget and marketing plan to have an ongoing advertising campaign, but this shouldn’t hold you back. You can still tell an incredible story with a one-off advertisement. Again, it doesn’t have to break the budget and be a 90 second version of James Cameron’s Avatar to grab the audience’s attention, it just needs to tell a great story.

Take a look at these two advertisements from Sky Atlantic and McDonald’s. Don’t be fooled by the size of the corporations behind these adverts: These are both achievable without millions of pounds behind them. Dustin Hoffman may have cost Sky a few quid, but it’s not the Oscar winning actor that grabs the attention. It’s the words he uses, the music in the background and the message it delivers: Great storytelling is here.

The McDonald’s ad tells the audience that everybody has McDonald’s in common, and it does it with a simple tale that a lot of us can relate to. Take away the McDonald’s banner at the end and you could quite easily be fooled into thinking this was a short film by Shane Meadows. The subtlety of the piece gets the message across without the use of a sledgehammer and it stays with you longer as a result. That’s what a great story does, and what great advertising can do when there is a great story being told within it.

Sky Atlantic Ad with Dustin Hoffman

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